We admit heading into our preview of Gearbox's Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway with some trepidation yesterday. Shooters set in World War II feel so played-out that even calling them a cliche has become a cliche. It seems that the team is trying some innovative things with its new title, though, including an attempt at making the "feel" of combat more authentic. Some new tactical features, like requiring you to lay down suppressing fire, as well as a mechanic for simulating the overall heat of combat, gave the preview we saw a unique flavor.
But the end of that meeting was even better for us, at least as far as our quest to find out about the overall adoption of DirectX 10 in the next batch of PC games on the horizon. As Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford told us, we'll be in a mostly DirectX 9 world for a while yet. And when we finally get to games built from the ground up with DirectX 10, you might not even notice, because next-gen graphics features will only trickle in to new titles gradually for the next couple of years.
According to Randy, PCs using today's DirectX 10 hardware would still likely have a hard time with a pure DirectX 10 game. There's still optimization that needs to go on with the drivers and the software in general. Further, and this is a bit more obvious, few developers are going to spend a lot of time on DirectX 10 now, when so few gamers have the hardware to take advantage of it. That's also why even on the titles that do incorporate some features of DirectX 10, you won't see anything drastically better-looking, because those games are still only dabbling with the next-gen API. This explains why (in our opinion) the current crop of DirectX 10 supporting games, Call of Juarez, Company of Heroes, and Lost Planet , and don't look that much different than their DirectX 9 counterparts.
Just prior to our meeting with Gearbox, we sat through an hour-long demo of Fallout 3, developed by Bethesda Softworks. Bethesda, if you recall, was the developer that made The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which, when it came out last year, seemed to hit the apex of DirectX 9's capabilities. The Fallout 3 demo, running on the DX9-only Xbox 360, no less, had noticeably better-looking graphics than Oblivion, despite using just a slightly updated version of the same graphics engine. Clearly, DirectX 9 still has some impressing to do.
We don't doubt that Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, and the other big PC shooters this year will look great when they launch. We also still advocate DirectX 10 hardware if you're a gamer and you've moved to Windows Vista. Even though both vendors need to work on their Vista drivers, Nvidia and ATI are making DX10 graphics cards right now that are relatively affordable and fly through games from the previous software. The only thing we'd suggest is that if you're happy with your current DirectX 9 hardware, you might wait to see what the visuals look like with these next-gen games. The newer cards do have faster clock speeds overall, but for the older cards that can get these new games running at a respectable frame rate, you might also find that you're not missing out on too much in terms of visual quality.